The Poppy’s Nine (one day old piglets) are proceeding splendidly. Their first day in the world was spent sleeping and drinking. They seldom leave the warm belly of their mother on this first day. So tiny they need constant food. So they drink and sleep and drink some more.
All was going perfectly to plan But I forgot about Molly. (I had brought Molly into the barn to be company through the wall for Poppy and also to give me time to get Molly’s piglets out into the field.) Anyway I was walking on cat feet through the barn to feed Molly and she leapt up onto the gate then missed her footing and fell with an enormous splash and clatter into her water tub. The noise was like a clanging bell.
This caused Poppy the Sow, in her area on the other side of the barn with her newborn babies (she is not in farrowing crate just a very large purposely designed farrowing pen described here), to leap up – this caused one of her piglets to squeal loudly. The little piglet screamed at the top of its tiny lungs. The screaming caused an avalanche. A cascade of sound and movement.
I froze then I brought my head very slowly over her straw-bale wall so I could see what was going on.
Every one of the piglets was down and frozen in place and Poppy was on her feet also frozen in place, feet glued to the ground, but her head was lowered and ranging from side to side, checking all around the space, her body arched upwards and barking loudly. The sound of this bark was part terror part warning. I must try to describe this sound. More of an AAR, AAR. Not a Woof. When you say it out loud emphasise the R. It is like the controlled bark of a wild pig/dog standing its ground but deeper, longer, it sounds a little lion like to me but just the first lift, it clearly means DO NOT MOVE – I AM LOOKING FOR DANGER. I will bite it’s head off. Do not move. Stay low. Stand still. Get away from my feet. Get where I can see you. Go down. The rhythm is strong, insistent. AAR, AAR, AAR, AAR.
All the piglets had dived for cover in that instant- literally covering their faces, sticking their heads in the corner or under a ledge, stuffing themselves into all their hiding places. They were down, flat to the ground, hard against their creep walls or hugging the floor. Frozen in place – quite still, clinging to the very edges of their new home. Statues. They are born with the knowledge that their mother can kill them by mistake with one wrong move so they have this innate ability to leap for cover in a millisecond and then freeze. The moment she moves to stand they are under their walls and out of harms way.
Poppy stood on her toes, her back arched, her head down barking for about two minutes. (that is a long time count to 60 twice barking the whole time). Then, once she had ascertained that there was no threat and after glaring at me a couple of times, she went to a corner clear of piglets, she pushed at the floor, making signs that she would be laying down then slowly began to lower her body, barking “Away, Away” the whole time. This bark was less frantic and definitely different but she was still obviously very upset. She put her head down onto her front hooves in the classic Downward Dog Yoga position, bum in the air, head down and held herself like that for 9 0r 10 long seconds, a long time, then when she had made quite sure the babies were out of the way she slowly, very slowly, in a desperate kind of slow motion, lowered her considerable bulk down to the floor and wriggling – rolled over to feed.
Then she began her singsong woof, woof. All is well. Come for a drink. This feeding sound has no actual rhythm. I would like to say syncopated – an anti rhythm. But it is not even as organised as that. Her breath does not determine its rhythm it is more organic, jungly. Muddled. There is a low drum beat in there but it is held back in its timing like a heart murmur missing beats then catching up with no actual conductor. The baton has been lost.
A clever person could write it as music but it would confuse the listener unless of course the listener were a hungry little piglet.
When I was a professional Nanny in London I taught the children I worked with that if they lost me to sit straight down, do not move, talk to no-one. Wait. Stay right where you are. Wait some more. Trust me because I would always find them. And they did and I would. I would test them on this especially in museums and art galleries. Places they could lose me, but I could not lose them. So I would slip behind a statue and after a few minutes they would look around mystified, and after the first few times at this game, not alarmed. They would sniff at the game, they would smile to each other and then sit straight down cross legged, lay their bags on their knees and wait. Grinning. Sometimes in the most delightfully inappropriate places.
Kind of a similar thing don’t you think?
I hope you have a lovely day.